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How to Become a Graphic Designer

By Lace Brunsden

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Welcome to the world of graphic design, where creativity meets communication, and visuals speak louder than words. If you’ve ever been captivated by a stunning advertisement, a beautifully designed website, or an eye-catching logo, you’ve experienced the power of graphic design. But is graphic design a good career? In this article, we’ll explore the dynamic and diverse field of graphic design, its roles, responsibilities, and the essential skills that shape this exciting profession.

Career Summary

Graphic Designer Salary

Graphic Designer Salary

Is graphic design a good career in terms of salary? Your salary as a graphic designer can vary a lot depending on exactly what you specialize in, the company that you work for, and how much experience you have. According to Glassdoor, you can expect the following range:

  • Entry Salary (US$44k)
  • Median Salary (US$54k)
  • Executive Salary (US$66k)

According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the average salary across all occupations in the United States is approximately US$ 61,900 per annum. The salary of a graphic designer roughly aligns with this.

Graphic Designer Job Description

The graphic designer job description can be difficult to describe because of how broad the profession is. In general, a graphic designer is a professional who specializes in visual communication.

If you become a graphic designer, you will use various design elements, such as typography, images, colors, and layout, to create visual content that conveys a message or information effectively.

Graphic Designer Career Progression

Here is a typical career progression for a graphic designer from entry-level to senior positions. This may vary slightly depending on your specific career path.

  • Entry-Level Graphic Designer: Your responsibilities include assisting with design tasks, working on small projects, and gaining proficiency with design software.
  • Junior Graphic Designer: You will work on a wider range of projects, collaborate with senior designers, and begin handling client interactions. You will continue to refine your design skills and start to develop a specialization or preferred design style.
  • Mid-Level Graphic Designer: You will manage complex projects, lead design teams, and contribute to strategic design decisions. This stage involves honing expertise in a specific design niche, such as web design, branding, or packaging.
  • Senior Graphic Designer: You might oversee major design projects, mentor junior designers, and collaborate closely with clients and stakeholders. You will play a significant role in shaping the creative direction of projects and may even manage design teams or departments.
  • Art Director/Creative Director: You will provide guidance to the design team, set creative standards, and ensure that design work aligns with branding and marketing goals. You may often be involved in client pitches and high-level decision-making.
  • Design Director/Design Manager: You focus on long-term design strategies, budgeting, and resource allocation. These roles involve a high level of leadership, business acumen, and collaboration with other departments.
  • Chief Creative Officer (CCO): You set the creative vision for the organization, oversee all design and creative functions, and play a pivotal role in shaping the brand’s identity and success.
Graphic Designer Career Progression

Pros:

  • Creativity
  • Diverse Projects
  • Constant Learning
  • Portfolio Building
  • Impactful Visual Communication

Cons:

  • Tight Deadlines
  • Client Feedback Challenges
  • Job Insecurity
  • Competitive Industry
  • Sitting for Extended Periods

Useful Skills to Have as a Graphic Designer

  • Design Software Proficiency
  • Typography Skills
  • Visual Communication
  • Color Theory
  • Problem-Solving

Popular Graphic Designer Specialties

  • Web Design
  • Branding and Identity Design
  • Illustration
  • Packaging Design
  • Motion Graphics Design

How to become a Graphic Designer

Graphic Designer 5 Steps to Career

Step 1: Get the Relevant Education

The first step to becoming a graphic designer is to earn a high school diploma or equivalent. After that, you should pursue a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, visual communication, or a related field. Alternatively, you can start with an associate’s degree or specialized design program.

Do I Need a Degree to Become a Graphic Designer?

No, you do not necessarily need a degree to become a graphic designer, but having formal education can be beneficial in various ways.

Alternatives to a degree do exist. You can acquire graphic design skills through self-study, online courses, workshops, and tutorials. Many successful graphic designers are self-taught. Specialized design programs, community college courses, or vocational schools offer shorter and more focused design education options without the commitment of a four-year degree.

Benefits of Getting a Graphic Design Degree

Getting a graphic design degree can be important for several reasons, depending on your career goals and personal circumstances.

Here are some reasons why pursuing a degree in graphic design can be beneficial:

  • Comprehensive Education: Graphic design degree programs offer you a structured and comprehensive education that covers a wide range of design principles, techniques, and software tools. This formal education provides a strong foundation in design theory and practice.
  • Hands-On Experience: Many graphic design degree programs include practical coursework, projects, and internships that allow you to apply your skills in real-world situations. This hands-on experience helps you develop a portfolio of work and gain practical knowledge.
  • Feedback and Critique: In a degree program, you have access to experienced instructors who can provide valuable feedback and critique on your work. This feedback helps you improve your design skills and refine your creative process.
  • Networking Opportunities: College and university environments often provide opportunities to network with peers, professors, and industry professionals. Building a professional network can be invaluable for finding job opportunities, freelance clients, and mentorship.
  • Credibility: Some employers, especially larger design agencies and corporations, may prefer or require candidates with a degree in graphic design or a related field. A degree can enhance your credibility and open doors to job opportunities.
  • Specialized Knowledge: Degree programs often allow you to specialize in specific areas of graphic design, such as web design, branding, illustration, or user interface (UI) design. Specialization can make you more competitive in niche markets.
  • Portfolio Development: While in school, you can work on a variety of projects that contribute to your portfolio. A well-rounded portfolio is essential for showcasing your skills to potential employers or clients.
  • Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving: A degree program can help you develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential for creative problem-solving in design projects.
  • Exposure to Design Trends: Formal education can expose you to current design trends, industry best practices, and emerging technologies, helping you stay relevant in the field.
  • Personal Growth: Pursuing a degree can be a fulfilling personal and intellectual journey. It can help you develop discipline, time management skills, and a deeper understanding of design and visual communication.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Degree in Graphic Design?

The duration of a graphic design degree program typically ranges from three to four years for a bachelor’s, depending on various factors.

Here are some key considerations that can influence the length of time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree in graphic design:

  • Full-Time vs. Part-Time: If you attend college or university on a full-time basis and follow the traditional academic calendar, a bachelor’s degree in graphic design is typically completed in four years. However, some programs offer accelerated options that allow you to finish in three years.
  • Credit Requirements: The number of credit hours required to complete a bachelor’s degree can vary by institution and program. Programs with higher credit requirements may take longer to complete.
  • Transfer Credits: If you have previously earned college credits, you may be able to transfer some of them to your graphic design program, which can shorten the time needed to graduate.
  • Summer or Intersession Courses: Some students choose to take additional courses during the summer or intersession periods to expedite their degree progress.
  • Cooperative Education or Internships: Some graphic design programs incorporate co-op education or internship requirements into the curriculum. While these experiences provide valuable real-world exposure, they can extend the overall duration of your degree.
  • Specializations or Concentrations: If you choose to specialize in a particular area of graphic design (e.g., web design, illustration, or motion graphics), it may require additional coursework and time to complete.
  • Thesis or Capstone Project: Certain programs may require a thesis or capstone project, which can add an extra semester or year to your degree timeline.

How Much Does it Cost to Study Graphic Design at University?

The cost to get a graphic design certification can vary a great deal depending on the university that you study at. According to the U.S. News, you can expect to pay anywhere between US$ 38,000 and US$ 96,000.

Generally speaking, in-state education is cheaper than studying out of state.

Can I Become a Graphic Designer Through Online Education?

Yes, you can absolutely become a graphic designer through online education. Online education has become a viable and flexible option for acquiring the skills and knowledge needed for a career in graphic design. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Accredited Online Programs: Many accredited colleges, universities, and specialized design schools offer online graphic design programs at various degree levels, including certificates, associate’s degrees, and bachelor’s degrees.
  • Flexibility: Online education allows you to study from anywhere, making it accessible to individuals with busy schedules or those who cannot relocate for traditional on-campus programs.
  • Diverse Course Offerings: Online graphic design programs often provide a wide range of courses that cover design principles, software proficiency, and specialized areas like web design, illustration, or branding.
  • Quality Instruction: Reputable online programs employ experienced instructors who are experts in the field. They may offer video lectures, live webinars, interactive assignments, and personalized feedback.
  • Self-Paced Learning: Some online programs offer self-paced or asynchronous courses, allowing you to progress at your own speed, while others follow a more structured schedule.
  • Cost Savings: Online education can be cost-effective, as you may save on commuting, housing, and other expenses associated with traditional on-campus education.
  • Career Support: Many online programs offer career services and resources to help you prepare for job interviews, build resumes, and explore job opportunities.

Step 2: Build a Portfolio

Most of the time you will start building your portfolio during your education. It is important to create a diverse portfolio of design projects showcasing your skills and style. Include both academic and personal projects. The portfolio serves as a visual testament to your skills, creativity, and evolving design style.

Include projects that span different mediums such as print, digital, and perhaps even motion graphics or animation if relevant to your interests. Showcase your ability to solve design challenges, communicate ideas effectively, and connect with your audience. As you progress, keep updating your portfolio to reflect your growth, evolving style, and the latest industry trends.

Step 3: Gain Technical Skills

Learn and master graphic design software, such as Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign) and other relevant tools.

What Are Some Web Resources to Learn Skills to Become a Graphic Designer?

There are many web resources available to help you learn the skills needed to become a graphic designer.

Here are some popular and reputable online platforms and websites where you can access tutorials, courses, articles, and other educational content:

  • Adobe Creative Cloud Tutorials: Adobe’s official website provides tutorials and resources for their Creative Cloud software, including Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and more.
  • Canva Design School: Canva offers free design courses and resources on topics like branding, typography, and layout.
  • Behance: Behance is a platform for showcasing design portfolios, but it also features tutorials and design inspiration from professionals worldwide.
  • Smashing Magazine: Smashing Magazine offers articles, tutorials, and resources on web design, UI/UX, and graphic design.
  • AIGA Design Archives: The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) provides a rich collection of design case studies, articles, and inspiration.

Step 4: Internships and Entry-Level Positions

Internship opportunities for graphic designers can provide valuable real-world experience, networking opportunities, and a chance to build your portfolio.

What Are Internship Opportunities for a Graphic Designer?

Internship opportunities for graphic designers encompass a diverse range of industries, each offering a unique learning experience. Graphic design agencies are a common choice, allowing interns to work on various projects spanning branding, advertising, packaging, and web design.

In-house design departments within corporations, non-profits, and government agencies provide insight into industry-specific design needs. Additionally, advertising agencies, web design studios, motion graphics and animation studios, and gaming companies frequently offer internships tailored to different design interests.

Freelance designers may also offer internship opportunities, offering hands-on experience and mentorship for emerging designers. These internship options provide aspiring graphic designers with a rich and diverse learning landscape to develop their skills and gain real-world design expertise.

What Skills Will I Learn As a Graphic Designer?

As a graphic designer, you will develop a wide range of skills that encompass both technical and creative aspects of the profession. These skills are essential for effectively communicating ideas, messages, and information through visual design. Here are some of the key skills you will learn and refine as a graphic designer:

  • Design Principles: Understanding fundamental design principles, such as balance, contrast, unity, and hierarchy, to create visually appealing and effective designs.
  • Typography: Selecting and manipulating fonts to enhance readability and convey the intended tone and message.
  • Color Theory: Mastering color psychology, color harmony, and the use of color to evoke emotions and create visual impact.
  • Layout and Composition: Arranging design elements on a page or screen to create visually pleasing and organized layouts.
  • Visual Communication: Conveying complex ideas and messages through visual elements, ensuring clarity and impact.
  • Illustration: Creating original artwork, illustrations, and icons to complement design projects.
  • Image Editing: Using software to edit and manipulate images for various design purposes.
  • Logo Design: Developing logos that represent a brand’s identity and values effectively.
  • Branding and Identity: Creating and maintaining consistent visual branding across various media, ensuring brand recognition and cohesion.
  • Web Design: Designing user interfaces (UI) for websites and applications, focusing on usability and user experience (UX) design principles.
  • Print Production: Preparing design files for print, understanding print processes, and ensuring print-ready materials.
  • Digital Design: Designing digital assets for online platforms, including social media graphics, banners, and email templates.
  • Vector Graphics: Creating and manipulating vector graphics using software like Adobe Illustrator.
  • Motion Graphics: Designing animations and motion graphics for videos and interactive media.
  • Client Communication: Developing effective communication skills to understand client needs, present design concepts, and incorporate feedback.
  • Project Management: Organizing and managing design projects, including timelines, resources, and budgets.
  • Critical Thinking: Developing problem-solving skills to address design challenges and make creative decisions.
  • Attention to Detail: Paying close attention to small details, ensuring accuracy in design work.
  • Adaptability: Staying up-to-date with design trends, technologies, and software updates to remain competitive in the field.

Step 5: Get an Additional Graphic Design Certification

Certifications can be valuable for graphic designers as they demonstrate expertise in specific areas of design and can enhance your credibility in the field.

Here are some certifications you may want to consider as a graphic designer:

  • Adobe Certified Professional (ACP): Adobe offers a range of certification exams for their design software, such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and more. Achieving ACP certification validates your proficiency in using these industry-standard tools.
  • User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) Design Certifications: Organizations like the Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g) offer UX and UI certification programs that focus on user-centered design principles and usability.
  • HubSpot Design Certification: Ideal for designers involved in inbound marketing and content creation, this certification covers topics like content design, email marketing, and marketing automation.
  • Web Design and Development Certifications: Platforms like W3Schools offer web development certifications that can be useful for designers working on web projects.
  • Certification in Sustainable Design: With a growing focus on sustainability, some organizations offer certifications in sustainable design practices.

What’s the Career Outlook for Graphic Designers?

According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the profession is expected to grow by roughly 3% from 2022 to 2023. Many of these opportunities are expected to open due to the natural course of time resulting in workers retiring and transferring occupations. It is considered to be a relatively average and stable growth rate.

Graphic Designer Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of a Graphic Designer?

Graphic designers can pursue various job opportunities and positions across different industries and sectors.

The specific roles and job titles may vary, but here are some common job opportunities and positions for graphic designers:

  • Illustrator: You will specialize in creating original illustrations and artwork for various applications, including books, magazines, advertising, and digital media.
  • UI/UX Designer: Specializing in user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design, these professionals create digital interfaces that are user-friendly, visually appealing, and functional.
  • Web Designer: Focusing on the design and layout of websites, you will create web pages, graphics, and user interfaces. You will work closely with developers to bring designs to life.
  • Packaging Designer: Packaging designers create visually appealing and functional packaging for products, considering factors like branding, product protection, and consumer appeal.
  • Motion Graphics Designer: You will work with animations and video to create dynamic visual content for video production, marketing, advertising, and digital media.
  • Brand Identity Designer: Focusing on branding and visual identity, you will create logos, brand guidelines, and marketing collateral to maintain consistent brand recognition.
  • Print Production Artist: Responsible for preparing design files for printing, ensuring they meet industry standards and specifications. You collaborate with printers and production teams.
  • Environmental Graphic Designer: Designers in this field create graphics and signage for physical spaces, including museums, retail stores, exhibitions, and architectural environments.
  • Creative Director: A higher-level position responsible for the overall creative vision of projects or organizations. You will guide design teams, set creative standards, and shape the brand’s identity.
  • Freelance Designer: Self-employed graphic designers who work on a project-by-project basis for various clients. You will have the flexibility to choose their projects and clients.

What Type of Companies Hire a Graphic Designer?

Graphic designers are hired by a wide variety of companies and organizations across different industries.

Here is a list of the types of companies and sectors that commonly hire graphic designers:

  • Advertising Agencies: Advertising agencies create campaigns for clients and often hire graphic designers to develop visual elements for advertisements, including print, digital, and broadcast media.
  • Graphic Design Agencies: Specialized design firms focus exclusively on design services and frequently employ graphic designers to work on various design projects.
  • Marketing and PR Firms: Marketing and public relations firms hire graphic designers to create marketing collateral, branding materials, and promotional content.
  • In-House Design Departments: Many corporations, from technology companies to retailers to non-profit organizations, maintain in-house design departments to handle their branding and marketing needs.
  • Publishing Companies: Publishers of books, magazines, newspapers, and digital content employ graphic designers to create layouts, book covers, and editorial graphics.
  • Web Design and Development Companies: Companies specializing in web design and development hire graphic designers to design user interfaces, web pages, and digital content.
  • Packaging Companies: Packaging manufacturers and design firms employ packaging designers to create product packaging that is visually appealing and functional.
  • Print and Signage Companies: These companies hire graphic designers to design print materials, signage, banners, and promotional products for clients.
  • Software and Tech Companies: Tech companies often employ graphic designers to work on user interface (UI) design, marketing materials, and branding for software applications and websites.
  • Fashion and Apparel Brands: Fashion companies hire graphic designers to create clothing designs, brand logos, marketing materials, and lookbooks.
  • Gaming Companies: The gaming industry hires graphic designers to create game graphics, characters, environments, and user interfaces.
  • Architectural and Environmental Design Firms: Environmental graphic designers work in firms that specialize in creating signage, wayfinding, and visual elements for physical spaces.
  • E-Learning and Educational Institutions: Educational institutions and e-learning platforms hire graphic designers to create educational materials, instructional graphics, and course content.
  • Government Agencies: Federal, state, and local government agencies employ graphic designers for various purposes, including public awareness campaigns, informational materials, and reports.
  • Non-Profit Organizations: Nonprofits hire graphic designers to create visual content for fundraising campaigns, awareness initiatives, and events.
  • Museums and Cultural Institutions: Cultural organizations hire graphic designers to create exhibition graphics, promotional materials, and educational resources.
  • Startups: Emerging startups often hire graphic designers to establish their branding and create marketing materials.
  • Social Media and Digital Marketing Companies: Companies specializing in social media marketing and digital content creation employ graphic designers to create visually engaging social media graphics and digital advertisements.
  • Entertainment Industry: Film studios, music labels, and entertainment companies hire graphic designers for movie posters, album artwork, promotional materials, and merchandise.

What Is the Work-Life Balance of a Graphic Designer?

Your work-life balance as a graphic designer can vary widely depending on factors such as the type of employer you have, your specific job role, and individual work habits.

Here are some considerations regarding work-life balance in the field of graphic design:

  • Regular Hours: Graphic designers employed by traditional organizations like design agencies or in-house departments often work standard business hours, typically 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday. This schedule can offer you a relatively stable work-life balance.
  • Freelance or Self-Employment: Freelance graphic designers have more control over their schedules but may experience irregular work hours, including evenings and weekends, to meet project deadlines. Balancing work and personal life is often your personal responsibility in freelance work.
  • Project-Based Work: Your workload as a graphic designer can vary depending on project deadlines. Some periods may be busier, requiring longer hours, while others may be quieter. Balancing work and life during peak project times can be challenging.
  • Remote Work: Many graphic designers have the flexibility to work remotely, which can offer a better work-life balance by eliminating commute times and allowing them to work from comfortable environments.
  • Client Expectations: Your work-life balance as a graphic designer can be influenced by client expectations and communication. Clear boundaries and expectations regarding response times and work hours are essential for maintaining balance.
  • Industry Sector: Work-life balance may also vary depending on the industry sector in which a graphic designer specializes. For example, designers in the advertising or marketing sectors may face more demanding schedules during campaign launches.
  • Career Stage: As an entry-level designer, you may experience different work-life balance challenges compared to senior designers or those in leadership roles.

Should I become a Graphic Designer?

In conclusion, the decision to pursue a career as a graphic designer hinges on a combination of personal passion, artistic aptitude, and career aspirations. As you contemplate this path, reflect on your innate creativity and enthusiasm for visual storytelling.

Consider whether you thrive in an environment where constant learning and adaptation are essential, where the ability to transform ideas into captivating visuals is at the core of your professional identity. Graphic design offers a world of possibilities, from crafting brand identities to shaping digital experiences, and it’s a realm where your creativity can make a profound impact.

Embrace the challenges and the continuous journey of skill development, for graphic design is an ever-evolving field that rewards those who remain curious and adaptable. If the prospect of translating ideas into striking visual narratives, solving design puzzles, and leaving your artistic mark on the world excites you, then the graphic design profession beckons with its promise of artistic fulfillment and creative exploration.

Whether you’re just starting or embarking on a new chapter in your career, the world of graphic design is yours to discover and shape.

Careers Related to Graphic Designer


Lace Brunsden

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